nominal determinism

Name and shame

It turns out that nominal determinism has something to it…

A news story reporting on a study of school performance in Germany reports what anybody who has read Freakonomics already knows. Names can cause all sorts of dramas.

The Freakonomics blog linked to this news story which explained a little bit about why all the staff are deserting the PM’s office.

“The name Kevin was perceived as being linked to especially poor behaviour and performance, with one study participant even writing that, “Kevin is not a name – it’s a diagnosis!””

This is a German study so these names don’t look like orthodox Australian names – but the study of 2,000 teachers found that people with normal names turn out better.

“The study reveals that the names traditional names such as Charlotte, Sophie, Marie, Hannah, Alexander, Maximilian, Simon, Lukas and Jakob are consistently linked to strong performance and good behaviour. Non-traditional names such as Chantal, Mandy, Angelina, Kevin, Justin and Maurice, on the other hand, are associated with weak performance and bad behaviour.”

Naming Rights (and wrongs)

A new “study” has found that names count. It’s pretty much the same theory expounded on in detail in Freakonomics – that people with dumb names will be picked on, or come from dumb families – and these environmental factors will cause them to grow up pretty screwed up. The study found that:

“Boys with unpopular, girlish or uncommon names often are ridiculed by peers, come from families of low socioeconomic status and face discrimination in the workforce based on a preconceived bias about their names, according to the study, which analysed more than 15,000 names.”

According to the SMH article the top 10 bad-boy names are:

  1. Alec
  2. Ernest
  3. Garland
  4. Ivan
  5. Kareem
  6. Luke
  7. Malcolm
  8. Preston
  9. Tyrell
  10. Walter

War of words

I have a confession – I’m a closet boxing fan. Not a fan of boxing within the confines of a closet – although I’d probably watch that – but a fan of the corrupt world of professional boxing. My love for all things pugilistic was inspired by the Power of One – the third most influential book I’ve read behind the Bible, and the Godfather (how I reconcile the influence of those three somewhat disparate books is a mystery even to me). I like boxing – the way the blood and sweat fly off a man’s face when a bruising right hook lands… it appeals to my inner caveman. So it is with great joy that I read today that two of my former league heroes – Solomon Haumono and John Hopoate, Manly’s Tongan bash brothers from the mid 90s – are considering a heavyweight clash of the titans. There’s something romantic about two lifelong friends (who celebrate Christmas together) jumping in the squared circle (ring) and trying to beat the daylights out of one another hoping to emerge as friends. That for me is what boxing is all about – that and the constant sledging, gambling, corruption, fixed bouts, flamboyant promoters, David and Goliath battles, and rags to riches “I trained in a shed with just a canvas bag dreaming of this day” storylines that go with boxing like things that go together really well (my similes today are suffering from an inability to form corroborative nouns).

If this bout does eventually go ahead my concerns are with the less syllablically endowed John Hopoate – largely due to a new theory I’m formulating linking boxing success with the number of syllables in a boxer’s name. Think about it – As Cassius Clay (4 syllables) Muhammad Ali (5 syllables) was a shadow of his future self. But the theory doesn’t stop there – I’m yet to conduct extensive research but my early studies show that the top 15 WBA Heavyweight boxers have an average of 5 syllables between them (First and Surname only – WBA Heavyweight champion Nikolai Vladimirovich Valuev would be unbeatable otherwise – the fact that he’s 7 feet tall and weighs 150kg is not a factor). Unless John Hopoate (5 syllables) starts billing himself as Jonathan Hopoate (7 syllables) he’s in trouble against Solomon Haumono (6 syllables). Here’s my WBA evidence…

World Title Holder – NICOLAY VALUEV – (Ni-col-ay Val-u-ev) – 6 syllables
1. RUSLAN CHAGAEV – (Rus-lan Cha-ga-ev) – 5 Syllables
2. RAY AUSTIN – 3 syllables
3. SULTAN IBRAGIMOV – (Sul-tan ib-ra-gi-mov) – 6 Syllables
4. SERGUEI LIAKHOVICH – (Ser-gui Li-ak-hov-ich) 6 syllables
5. DAVARYLL WILLIAMSON – (Dav-ar-yll Will-iam-son) 6 Syllables
6. JOHN RUIZ – 3 syllables
7. WLADIMIR VIRCHIS – (Wlad-i-mir Vir-chis) 5 Syllables
8. MIKE MOLLO 3 Syllables
9. HASIM RAHMAN 4 Syllables
10. TARAS BIDENKO – (Tar-as Bid-en-ko) 5 syllables
11. ALEXANDER DIMITRENKO – (Al-ex–an-der Di-mit-ren-ko) 8 Syllables
12. LAMON BREWSTER – 4 Syllables
13. KALI MEEHAN 4 Syllables
14. JEAN-FRANCOIS BERGERON (Jean Fran-cois Ber-ger-on) – 6 Syllables
15. EVANDER HOLYFIELD (E-van-der Ho-ly-field) 6 Syllables

The average number of syllables is 5 – the average for the top 5 boxers is 5.2 – pretty convincing evidence if you ask me – but you didn’t… Even fictional boxers have the edge over their lesser nominally endowed rivals – Rocky Balboa (5 syllables) fought the following – ignoring the Rocky Balboa comeback fight with Mason Dixon (4 syllables):

Spider Rico (4 Syllables)
Apollo Creed (4 Syllables)
Thunderlips (3 Syllables – Hulk Hogan – 3 syllables)
Clubber Lang (3 syllables)
Ivan Drago (4 syllables)
Tommy Gunn (3 syllables)

So there you have it – compelling evidence methinks… But remember – when a TV show tells you “don’t try this at home” they mean it.

Nicknames – nominal determinism in reverse

There’s a theory that’s been doing the rounds for many years that your name will determine the path your life takes. Thinking about it, this theory has possibly been around since Christ, or even earlier in Genesis, where names are given based on particular characteristics of the person they’re given to – eg Esau, which means Red… funny that these days in Australia’s ironic culture Esau would probably have been called Bluey. There are examples of nominal determinism out there in the real world – in the microcosim of Maclean there were several examples of this determinism in practice, or even in practise. The funeral directors were named Baker, and Dugmore. The electrician was named Watts. It’s not just confined to small country towns where people don’t necessarily think all that hard about their career paths. The head of Steggles Chickens was someone Poulter. A casino chief’s last name was Gamble. It’s been documented in lots of places I couldn’t find in preliminary efforts on the net.

I just saw an ad on TV for “Everybody loves Raymond.” I don’t love Raymond. I never have. He has a whiny, nasally voice that makes me want to do aggressive things and generally be a not very nice person. This goes to show that nominal determinism does not work in naming television shows.

Anyway, someone suggested I should do a “blog by request” on nicknames. I should note at this point that someone has suggested Mattias should start a similar column/regular entry on his blog doing pretty much the same thing. I’m all for competition. Everyone needs more choices for things to do on the internet. There’s really not that much out there once you’ve checked out all the good news sites (or the good, news sites [or the good new’s sites] – what do you reckon grammar nazi? have I got this right?) . Other than a quick dalliance at Homestarrunner or any of the other recommended internet comedy sites there’s just a truckload of unverified tripe, pages of useless wikis and copious amounts of unwholesome “fun” (I use the word fun very loosely).

But on to the topic at hand. Nicknames. According to nicknames have nothing to do with anyone named Nick.
“Etymology: In Middle English the word was ekename (from the verb to eke, “enlarge”; compare Swedish öknamn). Later, an ekename developed into a nickname when the “n” shifted through junctural metanalysis.”

So there you go. I would argue that nicknames are the procrastinators form of nominal determinism. I do wonder if they also play some part in some form of character development. I would contend that if you’re nickname was “Encyclopedia” you’d be a pretty boring person. The reasoning behind that suspicion is that if your friends are stupid enough to call you “Encyclopedia,” without any irony attached, your friends are likely to be quite boring – and if you were any more interesting you wouldn’t be hanging around with them. With any nickname there’s the danger it’s a chicken v egg question. Were you given the nickname because you’re boring, or are you boring because of your nickname.

And now, let me turn to my own “nickname” and examine whether it has played some role in determining my character or personality. I think nicknames are an important part of life in Queensland – probably more so in southern Queensland. But there are people like Scooter, Beebs, et al up here who would suggest that it’s a cancer that’s spread far, and wide. The week I moved to Brisbane I landed myself a new nickname… and consequentally a new personality. Once upon a time I was a shy, reserved lad who wouldn’t go out of my way to get noticed and most certainly wouldn’t ever think to, let alone dare to, refer to myself in the third person (ok so that was only once, and it was ironic). I arrived at a new school and a new church, and suddenly “Nathan” wasn’t good enough. No. I had to be given a new name, like some missionary moving to a tribe in a remote village. Queenslanders lack the irony, or subtlty of their southern counterparts. There’s no blueys around these parts. It surprises me that there aren’t more bignoses, or fatheads… because in a masterstroke of brilliance I was named after a facial expression… and so Smiley was born. I’ve always been slightly ambivalent to the name Smiley. There are worse nicknames. I’m thankful I wasn’t called “ugly” (although obviously that would have been ironic) or something like that (I originally used a much ruder word but Caitie vetoed it). My family (and particularly my father) have never really liked, or understood, the name. Apparently I’m not always happy afterall. Dad’s main concern is that people won’t take someone named Smiley seriously… and he’s probably got a point. But again – it’s a chicken v egg thing – would I be taken more seriously if I acted more serious? Probably. Would I have been called Smiley if I’d acted more seriously? Probably not. Was I a much more serious person before I got the name? I don’t remember but it’s unlikely. So now when people find it hard to take me seriously – I know who to blame.

Mark also wanted me to talk about people who give themselves nicknames. I think doing that is about on par with talking about yourself in the third person. Pretty sad. Unless absolutely necessary. There’s a funny story about a particularly hard working lawyer I worked with once… in a firm that will remain nameless to protect the guilty… who was not necessarily the most socially able lawyer in the world. He worked long hours and often had conversations with the cleaner… who it turned out took great pleasure passing on information to other members of staff. This lawyer had decided he needed a nickname and decided that henceforth he’d be known as “The Train.” So my rule for giving yourself a nickname is: make sure it’s not lame. That’s the only rule. I’m pretty sure it should be either appropriate, or ironic, and not named after a prominent body part.

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